We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

In Copyright Law, what is the Difference Between a Sound Recording and a Musical Composition?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
MyLawQuestions is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At MyLawQuestions, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

For copyright purposes, a sound recording differs from a musical composition when a person is applying for copyright status. The US copyright office makes distinction between the two, because a composition is the words and musical notation, while the recording is a form of performance. Additionally, a recording of spoken text, like a book on tape, can also copyrighted even though it's not music.

In order to register for copyright for a musical composition, a performing arts copyright form needs to be filed. Sheet music for the composition needs to be included, and many applicants include a recording of the music being performed. This does not, however, constitute a sound recording.

If a musician is attempting to copyright both the composition of music and a recording at the same time, he or she files a longer sound recording form. That means the specific performance and the material performed are now subject to copyright law. Many musicians work as primarily songwriters, though, and they may only include a recorded song in a performing arts song to further their claim that they have, in fact, written the material.

The distinction often comes down to who gets paid and when. A copyrighted sound recording protects the person holding the copyright from unlawful reproduction of the recording. This might include illegal downloads or file sharing and the unauthorized burning of discs. In general, while the copyright is active, no one can use that particular recording without paying for it — unless the copyright holder actively gives it away.

A performing arts copyright works differently. Anyone wishing to record the song must get permission from the composer. As long as the copyright holds, the composition cannot be used without payment or without permission. Unless the composer sells the copyright, he or see maintains full rights to its sole use. He may license the composition for use in a sound recording, and in general, he will be paid for such licensing.

There are several notable musicians who have written music without performing it,including the Bee Gees, Lionel Ritchie, and Burt Bacharach. Even though they did not perform some of their compositions, they always had the right to do so if they wished. They licensed use of their compositions for others who made recordings.

For example, the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet “Islands in the Stream” is a composition by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. The producers of the song paid the Gibbs to use the composition on a record. Filing a sound recording form then copyrighted that performance. The Gibbs could perform the song in concert, however, or even record their own version. All the artists involved were paid accordingly: Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were paid a portion of the sales of the record for their performance, and the Gibbs were paid for licensing the song.

If anyone had illegally copied the recording of Parton and Rogers, it would have been up to the producers of the song to seek legal redress. Alternately, if someone performed “Islands in the Stream” without permission from the Gibbs, this would have been a violation of the performing arts copyright. The Bee Gees would have been responsible for seeking any damages incurred by this violation.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.